Ethnic Theater - Jewish
Turtle Shell Theater, off-Broadway
For Jewish-American playwright Norman Beim, his play “Dreams” represents a dual challenge. In its current off-Broadway production, he is not only the playwright, but also a major performer. Though Beim has not been on stage for fifteen years, he returns to the boards with alacrity, it seems. The show has its June run at the Turtle Shell Theater.
But it is as playwright that Beim shines most brightly. His plays can always be depended upon to offer the unexpected twist. This time around, he offers “Dreams,” a tale of the two legendary Broadway stars Lily and Archie Lowe (read: Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt). The two are in retirement, but planning a return to the stage. The entire first act is given over their banter and their insecurities—lively but predictable. But, suddenly, as the act closes, Beim delivers an electric jolt. The unexpected happens, giving the act a strong closing.
We cannot reveal that turn of events, but suffices to say that this twist gives the entire second act a whole new area of exploration. Not surprising for any Beim play. His works are invariably sensitive, literate, and captivating. Beim goes on working, turning out the plays. Most memorable, for example, in his considerable body of work, was last year’s “Fritz & Froyim,” an unusual take on the aftermath of the Holocaust.
“Dreams,” however, does not have a Jewish theme, but deals with the milieu of the theater, with its struggles, disappointments, and successes. It also says a good deal about human relations—in particular, this marriage. If there is any criticism of the piece, it is that the closing of “Dreams” peters out, offering an unsatisfying wrap-up.
Under Sheila Smith’s direction, the production features a fine cast—with Carol Emshoff, Carol Lambert, and Gregg Lauterbach, in addition to Beim himself. But it is Emshoff whose performance stands out, giving a strength and a central core to the piece. Emshoff runs a gamut of emotions as Lily, dealing with an unexpected crisis in her marriage. She makes it look easy and natural, but it is in fact first-rate acting.
We all look forward to the next work of the talented and indefatigable Mr. Beim.
-- Irene Backalenick
June 11, 2008